'The Age of Shadows' Review: Suspense and suspicions

From its first frame to its last, Kim Jee-woon’s The Age of Shadows keeps things superbly tense.

A spy thriller set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, the film is as handsomely put together as it is intricately plotted.

THE AGE OF SHADOWS. Screengrab from YouTube/Movieclips Film Festivals u0026 Indie Films

THE AGE OF SHADOWS.

Screengrab from YouTube/Movieclips Film Festivals u0026 Indie Films

Sensuously sophisticated 

Screengrab from YouTube/Movieclips Film Festivals u0026 Indie Films

Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho) used to be a resistance fighter before he switched sides to serve as police chief for the Japanese.

Tasked to smoke out members of the resistance, he becomes acquainted with Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo), an antiques dealer in Seoul who the Japanese believes will lead them to the resistance’s leader. Lee Jung-chool’s plans are complicated by the entry of Hashimoto (Um Tae-goo), an ambitious upstart who wants to have all the glory of foiling the resistance for himself.

 

The plot actually isn’t all that complicated.

However, Kim shapes his film to enunciate the double dealings, the undercover operations, the doubts and suspicions that pervade the exquisitely detailed period. The result is a film that feels sensuously sophisticated even if its storyline is replete with all the trends and trappings of its decades old genre.

Meticulous filmmaking 

Screengrab from YouTube/Movieclips Film Festivals u0026 Indie Films

Kim is a meticulous director. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) is a gripping mood piece whose most frightening portions aren’t reliant on predictable scares but on the perfectly evolved atmosphere that Kim evoked out of arresting visuals and subtexts. The Good, The Bad, and the Weird (2008) is an absurd reinterpretation of the Western. Even The Last Stand (2013), Kim’s collaboration with Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a decent actioner with some outstanding set pieces.

Screengrab from YouTube/Movieclips Film Festivals u0026 Indie Films

In The Age of Shadows, Kim commits to the labyrinthine and sometimes overstretched take on political and personal intrigue. 

It is a thoroughly plotted film, carefully constructed to make sense most especially when the plot explodes all over. It climaxes at the right time, with twists and turns are perfectly placed to produce all the apt emotions. The result is an intricate but convincing portrait of a world where anything can happen, where enemies are allies, and allies are foes. 

Vigor and excitement 

Screengrab from YouTube/Movieclips Film Festivals u0026 Indie Films

The Age of Shadows is brimming with vigor. There is excitement even from unlikely conversations and telling moments of silence. It really is something to behold, a defiant piece of entertainment that actually succeeds even when it shouldn’t. – Rappler.com

 

 Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.